Most adoptees have little to no information about their birth family before their adoption journey begins. I have been personally involved in several searches, including my own, and I have watched many from afar in various adoptee groups. I have seen and heard all kinds of crazy adoption stories, and I’ve learned that it’s best to use the time during the search to prepare mentally for what you may find out.

You could find out that your birth mother was the victim of rape. You might learn that your birth parents already had six kids and couldn’t take care of another. Your birth mother may have wanted desperately to keep you, but her parents forced her to place you for adoption. Your birth father may have had an affair with your birth mother and threatened her to place you so as not to ruin his family. It’s possible that your birth father never knew you existed. Your birth mother may have been told that you passed away, but instead the hospital handled your adoption. I am not exaggerating when I say there are an endless list of possibilities. The interesting and strange part is that you never know which information will strike you emotionally until you hear it.

Take my case as an example. I had pretty much decided that I was ready to search, but I needed a DNA test. We live on a very tight budget. One of the adoption groups I’m in had donors giving away tests at Christmas. I got on the list but was contacted later and told that had run out of tests. They gave me the info of a different group to reach out to. I did, and they sent me an Ancestry DNA kit. I collected the sample and sent it back immediately.

About five weeks later I got the results. I enlisted the help of a search angel and found my birth family in 24 hours. My birth father had passed away a few days earlier. I was devastated and overwhelmed. I found a half-sister I knew about, one I didn’t, and two full sisters. I was shocked to learn that my birth parents had gotten married four months after I was born and adopted. They went on to have two more kids and divorced years later.

For whatever reason, it took me a long time to wrap my head around that information. My search angel kindly pointed out that they probably bonded over the loss, but to me it kind of felt like a slap in the face. It just felt like they had gone on with their lives like I had never happened. My biological aunt had been pregnant at the same time as my mother. She said she would have taken me if she had known. It felt like I had missed the life I was supposed to have and the family I was meant to be with—by four months.

I had to realize that it was a very long time ago and it didn’t much matter anymore. I love my adoptive family and wouldn’t trade them for anything. My life and my family are what made me who I am today.

You are essentially walking into your reunion blind. The adoption story you’ve been told may not even be close to reality. There is always a chance that despite the details of your past, your birth parents will not want to communicate with you. Some birth parents have spent decades trying to forget and move past the pain, and they choose not to revisit it. Unfortunately, that’s something you must prepare yourself for. A recurring motto for me when helping others search is, “Expect the worst, and hope for the best.” Out of all the adoptees whose stories I have heard, none of them have regretted the search when it was all said and done. They all felt it was better to know the truth.